Maryland’s Highest Court Gives Us Another Reason Not To Eat McDonald’s
Last week, the Court of Appeals of Maryland upheld a rape conviction, ruling that the voluntary abandonment of a McDonald’s cup in a holding cell did not implicate the detainee’s rights under the Fourth Amendment. In Williamson v. State, the Court reasoned that a there was no subjective expectation of privacy in a discarded cup. The test results of the genetic material on the cup, the Court opined, were therefore admissible.
Judge Lynn Battaglia started the opinion by signaling that the case would contain some fun facts —
The writers for the NBC television series Law & Order Special Victims Unit would be hard pressed to author an episode full of more issues involving DNA than found in this case . . . .
Kudos to Judge Battaglia. If more judges would work in cultural references in their opinions, law would be way more fun.
Here is what went down in Williamson—
When a detective named Tracy Morgan learned that Williamson was suspected in a rape case, she set out to trick him into giving up his DNA for testing. Apparently, this Detective Morgan is her jurisdiction’s version of Law & Order: SVU’s Detective Olivia Benson.
Detective Morgan contacted the cops and told them to arrest Williamson on an unrelated charge and bring him in. While Williamson was being held, the cops offered him a McDonald’s meal while he awaited booking. This, according to the opinion, is standard procedure for that precinct.
Williamson ate the meal, and when he finished, he left the trash on the floor of the cell. After Williamson left the cell, Detective Morgan swooped in, quickly retrieved the McDonald’s cup and took it to the crime lab. The lab tested Williamson’s DNA on the cup, which yielded a DNA record matching the DNA record of the rapist.
By testing the cup, the cops and the prosecutor got this serial rapist off the street. That is a result everyone wants.
But Chief Judge Bell’s dissent makes a good point:
If the majority is correct, there would be no reason, or need, for DNA collection statutes. The State could do as it did here, supply the [McDonald’s] cup and instead of disposing of it, analyze the DNA on it. A lot of constitutional questions and litigation could thereby be avoided.
Instead of encouraging cops to go through the charade of buying detainees Happy Meals, the legislature should enact a broad DNA collection statute. That is effectively what is happening anyway. And then, there would at least be a law on the books that could be challenged. Plus, courts wouldn’t have to go through this tortured analysis to try to justify obtaining DNA from a detainee’s trash. And, Dick Wolfe will have one less trope to use on his shows. It is a win-win-win.
The Court’s opinion can be found here.